You’re ready to make sausage at home, and you have your meat, fat, liquid, and seasoning. The first step should be grinding the meat, right?
Not necessarily. When it comes to whether or not to season sausage before or after grinding, you can really go in either direction.
You can cube the meat, mix in the spices, and then grind. Or, you grind the meat and then mix in the spices. Read on to learn more about both approaches.
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Sausage Making Seasoning
The beauty of making your own sausage at home is that you can use whatever meat you want and whatever spices and seasoning you want!
You can use ground herbs and spices, like cumin, coriander, allspice, cayenne, thyme, fennel, etc. Or, you can use whole herbs and spices, like fennel seed, black peppercorns, yellow mustard seed, etc.
There are also many seasoning blends out there that are pretty popular:
- Andouille: cayenne, garlic, paprika, and thyme (all with a smokey flavor)
- Hot Italian: crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, fennel seed, sea salt, parsley, garlic
- Sweet Italian: sea salt, brown sugar, fennel seed, coriander, black pepper, caraway, crushed red pepper flakes
- Chorizo: cumin, coriander, clove, bay leaf, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, garlic, sea salt, peppercorns, Ancho chile powder, paprika, apple cider vinegar
Of course, salt counts as a part of your seasoning to add flavor to your sausage. Commonly used types of salt for homemade fresh sausage are Kosher salt and sea salt. You can read more about what kind of salt goes in sausage here.
If you plan to cure your sausage, then you typically add curing salt, like sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. There are two main curing salts used in sausage making, called Cure 1 and Cure 2.
Cure 1 has about 6% sodium nitrite and about 97% salt. Cure 2 has about 6% sodium nitrite, about 1% sodium nitrate, and about 93% salt. Read more about curing salts and nitrates in sausage here.
Should I Season Sausage Before or After Grinding?
There are two main approaches to consider here:
- Cube the meat, mix in the salt and spices, let the seasoned cubes rest in the refrigerator, and then grind
- Grind the meat and then mix in the seasoning (usually sausage makers will mix the salt and spices in with water, beer or whatever liquid you’re using and pour this into the ground meat and then mix—you can read more on this here)
Which of these approaches you take is really up to you. There are arguments to be made for and against either method. Read on for more details.
Seasoning Meat Before Grinding
The Argument For It
Some home sausage makers will say that salting the cubed meat before grinding and allowing it to sit in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 48 hours allows for more myosin to be extracted from the meat. This is said to help with binding.
Let me first quickly explain what myosin is. Myosin is the main protein in muscle (and muscle is the part of the animals that we turn into meat for food). Myosin acts as a binder for meat emulsions, which refers to the mixture of meat, fat, and water distributed amongst each other (sausage is a meat emulsion). It stabilizes these three components and helps firm up the meat.
When we add salt to meat and let it rest, it brings out the myosin and allows it to act as a binder. In meat where salt hasn’t been added, the myosin stays deep in the tissues, doesn’t get released, and therefore, it’s binding action doesn’t happen.
Many home sausage makers agree that when you have good binding, you get firmed sausagemeat, and you get a good, clean grind without any smearing when you push it through a meat grinder.
Binders can also help with texture, make sausage slice more smoothly, make sausage more moisture, and help with water retention to prevent sausage from drying out.
Some also say that the seasoning-before approach helps with spice distribution, and that spices can mix better during the grinding process.
Another reported benefit is if you want to use whole herbs or spices like bay leaves, mustard seed, or peppercorn, that add distinct flavor but aren’t pleasant to eat. You can mix bay leaves in with the diced meat, and let it sit in the fridge to impart the flavor into the meat. Then when you’re ready to grind, you can remove the leaves and then grind and stuff the sausage per usual.
The Argument Against It
Firstly, with seasoning before grinding, your meat grinder can get more messy. You have to clean your meat grinder between uses anyway, but you might have more cleaning to deal with if you’re using seasoning plus cheese, oil, etc.
Secondly, despite all of the above mention of the benefits with binding, some don’t notice any difference in flavor, and don’t have any problems with texture.
Seasoning Meat After Grinding
The Argument For It
Many people use the seasoning-after approach and get more than satisfactory results.
Many say that it’s easier to get good, even coverage with salt and seasoning once the meat is ground.
Also, by grinding, you’re increasing the surface area, so you can impart the flavor of the seasoning and also cure faster.
The Argument Against It
When mixing in seasoning after grinding, some people find that it mushes up the sausage meat too much. They end up getting texture like that of a hot dog, which isn’t ideal for most. Most people like a juicy sausage with plenty of texture to bite into.
However, not everyone experiences this and probably more people don’t experience it. It can really vary and depends on many different factors, including how you’re mixing the meat (whether you’re mixing by hand or using an electric mixer), amount of liquid used, amount of fat used, etc.
It’s also possible that with increased surface area from grinding meat down, bacteria has more surface to colonize. I think, though, this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re grinding the meat, then immediately stuffing the sausage and either cooking it or letting the stuffed sausage set in the refrigerator for a while.
It’s more of a problem if you’re letting ground meat sit and be exposed to air, which increases its risk of contamination by bacteria.
As you can see, when it comes to the question of if you should season sausage before or after grinding, there’s an equal number of pros and cons for either approach. And, a lot of this is just personal opinion based on personal experiences.
There’s even an in-between approach of doing an initial course or medium coarse grind, adding the salt and spices, and then re-grinding through a fine plate on the meat grinder. Read more on how many times you should grind meat for sausage here.
There really is no one right way to do it. I highly suggest you experiment with both and see which you like best.